What Is DEIB? Defining Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging
Mentoring Community Director and Workplace Mentoring Expert
Jun 15, 2023
Most people are at least partially familiar with diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI. But in recent years, this concept has evolved to add another letter: B, for Belonging. Topics in this space commonly change as our understanding of what they mean changes. That doesn’t make it any easier for company executives, HR leaders, or workers trying to advocate for change in the workplace properly. You certainly can’t be faulted for wondering, “What is DEIB, anyway?”
For the most part, adding Belonging to the long-established concept of DEI doesn’t change its meaning dramatically. But it does help clear up some ambiguity in the terms and creates a functional roadmap that your company can use as you learn about, plan, and execute your inclusion goals.
An Introduction to DEIB
First, let’s start with the basic definition of terms.
DEIB stands for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. We’ll walk through what each of these terms means in more depth later in this post, but for now, here’s a high-level understanding of how they’re different:
- Diversity is often seen as a measure of your organization’s demographic DNA. Diverse companies successfully attract and retain a mixture of employees from different nationalities, ethnic groups, gender identities, socio-economic backgrounds, educational levels, and lived experiences.
- Equity is seen as how your company implements strategies across all aspects of the organization that take into account historic disadvantages different groups have faced in the workplace. These areas include hiring practices, employee engagement strategies, development and learning opportunities, promotion strategies, and more. Equity and Diversity are often the most challenging parts of DEIB and, understandably, the ones that tend to have the most considerable financial and reputational consequences when done wrong.
- Inclusion is seen in how companies proactively integrate individuals into the organization in effective and authentic ways. E.g., once individuals are hired, inclusion involves the actions that companies deploy to ensure these individuals are actively taking part in the workplace community.
- Belonging, which is the newer addition to DEI, is the end goal of the three. If Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are accounted for, employees ideally feel a sense of belonging. Belonging is measurable, and it should be judged against measurable KPIs. Typically, belonging is seen through qualitative data, but it can also be assessed through quantitative data, such as an increase in employee productivity or retention.
These concepts (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) are becoming commonplace in organizations, especially among executive and HR leaders. Employees are increasingly demanding companies take DEIB into account. Nearly 80% of job seekers stated that working for a diverse company is important to them.
It’s not just a trending buzzword but a fundamental tenet for promoting individual growth and collective advancement in a healthy and sustainable work environment.
DEIB involves celebrating and utilizing differences in race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and abilities for innovation, resilience, and empathy. It offers a secure and inspiring setting where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered to reach their full potential.
These four pillars have a synergistic and interdependent relationship. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are not stand-alone concepts; they are integral to one another to create healthy communication, collaboration, and innovation.
Diversity: Beyond Tokenism
The workplace has changed, and now it’s essential to have a diverse workforce. Companies that prioritize diversity have an advantage in hiring, retention, and partnerships. But diversity may be a noun, but it’s also something that takes a few verbs.
Resources, space, and opportunities must be given in the workplace to make diversity happen in actuality. This starts with ensuring that the company changes what it’s doing programmatically to ensure diversity in the workplace occurs and is sustained.
While diverse thinking and visibility should touch as many aspects of the organization as organically (and sometimes, inorganically) possible, companies may need to put their attention into a few key areas first:
- Hiring practices
- Onboarding strategies
- Employee Resource Groups (or ERGs)
- Mentoring programs
- Promotion and leadership criteria
ERGs and mentoring programs are uniquely beneficial to making sure diversity is both sustainable and visible. Workers have access to allies, mentors, and advocates, while management gets invaluable feedback. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) are vital values for the future workplace.
We need to go beyond tokenism and embrace diversity. Traditional hit-and-run diversity training doesn’t work– we need to create and uplift Employee Resource Groups to nurture individuals from all walks of life.
Equity: Fairness for All
A strong workplace culture is crucial, especially as employees struggle to feel connected to their organizations. Multiple factors, such as economic hardships, are making life harder for workers. Not all workers will face hardships the same. Those workers from historically underrepresented groups are less likely to have safety nets.
Building a strong culture of equity is important in both this context and outside of it. Equity in the workplace means fair treatment for all employees regardless of their background, beliefs, or experiences. It ensures a level playing field where everyone has the same chance to succeed.
Achieving equity is a never-ending process and requires a fundamental commitment from everyone in an organization, from the top down.
The goal is to ensure that employees are treated in such a way that their historic disadvantages are considered when companies make important decisions, including hiring, firing, promotions, pay increases, and electing individuals for leadership positions.
As noted earlier, Equity (and Diversity) are hard to get right. One national coffee chain found this out the hard way in 2023 after it was ordered to pay a white female employee over $25 million in restitution after it fired her following a race-related PR crisis. While the company claimed to have done nothing wrong, the jury disagreed. This came down to an equity issue.
HR leaders trying to navigate diversity and equity policies may want to hire experts in this area before creating and enacting any policies. Particularly in the U.S., EEOC complaints could arise specifically related to these two areas.
Inclusion: Belonging and Respect
Companies that aim to promote DEIB need to take a comprehensive approach to create a strong foundation. While that starts with creating effective practices for diversity and equity, it needs follow-through. That’s where inclusion comes into play.
Inclusion is a crucial pillar, as it involves actionable steps companies take to make sure that they aren’t just paying lip service to DEIB. It involves showing employees (and everyone else, for that matter) that the company values its diversity and equity approach by ensuring that all are effectively integrated visibly and meaningfully into the organization across all levels.
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are one way to promote inclusion. These voluntary employee-led groups encourage diversity and inclusion within the organization and offer networking, mentorship, and professional development opportunities based on shared backgrounds, identities, or interests.
ERGs also provide a supportive community for underrepresented employees. However, ERGs alone cannot address the systemic issues related to exclusion, such as hiring and promotion biases. An essential part of inclusion is accountability. In fact, one could argue that accountability is synonymous with inclusion. When companies ensure that their implementation of diversity and equity is visible and measurable, they make it far easier for themselves to stick to their commitment.
Belonging: The Positive Result of Good DEI
Belonging is a basic human need that goes beyond race, gender, religion, or other affinities. It involves accepting differences, promoting inclusion, and establishing emotional safety in the workplace. For DEIB, belonging is what happens after companies have done everything else correctly.
Fair warning, however. While it’s important to view the impact of belonging within larger, demographic-agnostic datasets (e.g., overall employee retention, productivity, and satisfaction), companies should also cut data across different demographics. Simply offering programs like ERGs doesn’t automatically mean every group will be praising your company for its efforts. There may be times when you need to be more strategic and how you develop belonging. At times, that may mean a different approach for different groups. (Hint, hint: This is also an equity issue!)
The Business Case for DEIB
Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) are critical for any workplace culture. DEIB isn’t just a moral obligation; it’s also beneficial to businesses, the economy, and society itself.
In its 2023 Mentoring Impact Report, MentorcliQ found that Fortune 500 companies with both female CEOs and mentoring programs were the most profitable. Meanwhile, others, including McKinsey, have also found that companies with diverse leadership teams are more profitable on average.
To achieve this, companies must commit to embedding DEIB into their organizational practices, creating an environment of respect, trust, and support. The four DEIB pillars are guiding principles that help create a sturdy table that welcomes all perspectives and experiences.
Whether in the boardroom or lunchroom, DEIB is about giving everyone a seat at the table. But more than that, it’s also about verifying your approach through thoughtful and purposeful qualitative and quantitative data measurement. Without a measurement process in place, DEIB is quickly forgotten, alongside its many benefits to the bottom line.
Where Do I Start with DEIB?
DEIB requires a careful approach. Although it’s often seen as a “soft” HR consideration, it’s anything but that. Effective and measurable DEIB is one of the best ways companies can attract the best talent, retain the best employees, and reap the rewards with gains in productivity and engagement.
Getting started with DEIB means taking into account all of the following:
- Understanding DEIB: It’s crucial to know what Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging mean and how they are interconnected. This understanding should extend beyond the HR department and permeate every level of the organization.
- Leadership Commitment: The leadership team must genuinely commit to the principles of DEIB and lead by example. They need to publicly and regularly reiterate the importance of DEIB, ensuring it’s reflected in the company’s mission, vision, and values.
- Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): ERGs are groups of employees who come together based on shared characteristics or life experiences. These groups are a great way to foster a sense of belonging and can help underrepresented employees feel seen and heard.
- ERG Software: ERG management software can help streamline the planning, communication, and measurement of ERGs. This can improve the effectiveness of these groups and make it easier for them to achieve their goals.
- Training and Education: Regular, ongoing training on DEIB topics can help employees better understand and respect each other’s differences. This should be a mix of formal training sessions, informal learning opportunities, and resources for self-directed learning.
- Recruitment Practices: It’s important to ensure that hiring practices are equitable and designed to attract a diverse pool of candidates. This could involve everything from where job postings are shared to how job descriptions are written and interviews are conducted.
- Inclusive Policies and Benefits: Reviewing and updating company policies and benefits to ensure they are inclusive and cater to the needs of a diverse workforce can go a long way in promoting DEIB.
- Performance Metrics: To track progress, it’s crucial to implement DEIB-related performance metrics. These can help ensure accountability and can inform decisions about where more effort is needed.
- Safe and Open Communication Channels: Ensuring that employees feel safe expressing their views and experiences is key. Open communication channels can facilitate this dialogue and encourage employees to share their thoughts and ideas.
- Continual Assessment and Improvement: DEIB is not a one-time effort. It requires ongoing assessment and improvement. Regularly gathering feedback, analyzing data, and making necessary changes can help a company continue to progress on its DEIB journey.
Many of these will require deep and sometimes challenging internal discussions. When you get ready to start on ERGs, we’re here to help. Book a call to learn more about how ERGs and ERG software are an important component of any DEIB strategy.